There are a lot of different gear options when it comes to hiking with your dog. Collars, leashes, harnesses of all varieties, jackets, coats, boots, bandanas, visibility gear, on and on. After trying many things, I’ll tell you what is now my gear of choice: a secure harness with a high-visibility leash and ID tag.
There are 3 reasons why I use a harness rather than a collar for hiking: health, safety, and efficiency.
Let’s start with health. Wearing a harness instead of a collar transfers any and all pressure points to the body of the dog rather than the neck. There is no risk of a sudden stop causing inadvertent harm to the dog’s neck. A well-fitted (key words!) harness is easy for my dogs to wear, does not inhibit their movement, and makes them more visible to other people.
That brings me to safety. This is the biggest reason why I choose a harness. If something goes wrong (and we hope it doesn’t!), I can grab a hold of my dogs very quickly and easily. Actually grab a hold. Some harness varieties have a handle. The one I choose to use, a Hurtta harness, does not, but that is a deliberate choice. I don’t want anything to snag on branches, barbed wire, or other obstacles on the trail. Basically, I don’t want my dogs to get hung up! That’s why their harnesses are fitted very snug to their bodies.
Let’s get back to that “grab a hold” part. Here’s a story to illustrate. While hiking on the Trails Around Middlebury in Vermont, we encountered a very simple shallow water crossing. Someone helpful had placed a downed tree/log to provide easy transit from one bank to the other. The water was maybe 2 feet deep, but very murky and you wouldn’t want to fall in. Mica, my Border Collie, was crossing ahead of me. As he is speedy on his feet (and has 4 of them with which to balance), he got out in front of me. Being the considerate dog that he is, he attempted to turn around on the log to check in on me. You can guess what happened next. His back feet slipped off, and there he clung, front legs wrapped over the log, back feet frantically trying to gain enough purchase to haul himself back on. It was a hopeless situation, and he was thoroughly stuck. It was a simple matter to grab his harness and help him back on the log. If he was just wearing a collar, I would have had to man-handle him, getting soaked and compromising my own balance, to get him back on the log.
Here’s another example. We were in Maine on a “trail” comprising entirely of boulders. Yep, giant boulders (see picture below). I was just as befuddled as you are right now reading this. But, adventure awaits! So we gave it a try.
For safety’s sake, I let him be off leash so that he wouldn’t end up dangling somewhere and so that he could regulate his own pace and not hit the end of the leash by accident and compromise his balance. We were taking things slow, but it was very nice to be able to assist him when needed by grabbing a hold of his harness and steadying him. The boulder section of the trail did not last long, but I was grateful to have a method of helping my dog manage through it.
Ok, lastly, efficiency. Because I use harnesses with a connection on the dog’s back, it’s rare that leashes get tangled. They are up high and a straight line to me. You could argue the same for collars, but with a harness, my dogs’ heads can move around, sniff, etc without affecting the leash. But Danielle, doesn’t it encourage your dog to pull on leash when he wears a harness? So glad you ask! If you have taught your dog to walk nicely on leash, it does not matter what gear you choose to use. That’s another topic for another day, but Mica can wear anything from a regular harness, to an Easy-Walk front-clip harness, to a head halter, to a collar, or nothing at all and stay by my side. Even if your dog does tend to pull, I’d rather have them pull in a harness with no risk of damaging their trachea like in a collar. You might try a front-clip harness like the Easy Walk to redirect your dog back to you should they pull.
One final note on harnesses. I had to look for a long time to find one that did not shift around on my dog’s frame. There was nothing more annoying than having it hang off one side or fit too loosely and in the wrong areas. It’s important to me that a harness in no way impedes my dog’s movement. He may need to move freely if we get in a bind, plus I want his freedom of movement to be easy to avoid stress, strain, or sore muscles post-hike. I’ll share more about fit, brands, and recommendations in an upcoming post. In the meantime, check out the pictures below to get an idea of what the Adventure Dogs wear!
As always, stay safe!! Always make sure your dog has visible ID with your contact information.
Happy Trails Adventurers!!